Monday, October 5, 2015

Betrayed (House of Night #2) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Zoey is facing the task of completely redeeming and rebuilding the Dark Daughters into a new, reformed organisation. A difficult task for her at the best of times – but with boys from her old school going missing, police suspecting vampires and three guys vying for her attention, Zoey has a lot of distractions.

Before we begin the review, I must remind everyone that my suffering through this series is the fault of Cyna and Mavrynthia and Merriska. I cannot even remember how they convinced me to go along with this torturous read – but in the name of some partial justice I think everyone should remind Cyna that she’s only read the first book of the Fallen Series and really really needs to read the rest. 

Ok, let us start positively. Yes, I actually can start positively on this book (well, in relative terms). I do appreciate that an effort has been made in this book to make Aphrodite less of a complete avatar of awfulness (by giving her parents who are complete avatars of awfulness). There’s also a toning down of the all consuming slut shaming of the last book – certainly not a removal of it by any stretch, but a definite reduction. There was also a half-decent attempt at an emotional death scene

I’m not saying any of these are good, because they’re really not and in any other book I would bite off my fingers before saying anything positive about these things, but Marked set the bar so damn low that exceeding my expectations is pretty damn easy to do. Kind of how falling in a compost heap feels more like a warm, soft landing after having swum through a toxic cess pool.

The first complaint I have about this book is the glaring void where the plot needs to be. I have sat for 10 minutes trying to figure out what happened and come up empty time and again. Some guys disappear but she watches that on the news, that’s hardly a plot point. She just kind of wanders around not doing a whole lot until we have some action hastily tacked on the end.

I suppose, in theory, the reformation of the Dark Daughters, the super club of the House of Night is the plot. But it’s not only completely lacking in any kind of substance, but it’s also comically awful.

First of all she does a whole lot of research to come up with the genius idea of a student council. No, really, that’s her master plan that actually requires research on her part which would be sad to begin with. But it gets worse – because she also decides she hates how cliquish the Dark Daughters was under Aphrodite so she’s totally going to make it different no – by making 6 of the 7 council members her, her friends and her boyfriend. Marvel at this for a moment, to remove the cliquishness of the Dark Daughters she decides to replace Aphrodite’s friends with all of her own friends. Yes, Zoey lacks even the slightest sense of self-awareness.

But it gets even worse! Because she decides that they will also have a code of conduct to uphold virtues based on the 5 elements (fire, air, earth, water and spirit). Ok I think this could work – personally I think codes of conduct should be based on virtues you want to uphold rather than whether they make a neat set, but I can see, say, courage or passion for fire, tenacity and steadfastness for Earth or…

….ha! Nope, she’s going by the first letters. Seriously, it’s “authenticity” for air and “faith” for fire. Her meaningful virtue system doesn’t even work in another language. It’s also completely that vague – so all the Dark Daughters now have to be “authentic” whatever that actually means – as well as “sincere” for spirit (which I kind of think is just double dipping the same virtue).

To make this nonsense even more galling is the way everyone treats her like she’s some incredible, amazing genius for coming up with this basic, hollow, empty nonsense. No, really, one character even thinks this amazing non-idea is so impressive that she actually steals it. It’s like copying of a 10 year old for your dissertation. It’s depressing and it’s classic Mary Sueness – the protagonist comes up with the weakest, most pathetic non-idea and everyone fawns over it like it’s utter genius.  She literally “sweated for weeks” over these ideas.

On top of this non-idea we have the love triangle – well, square.

I’m not a fan of a love triangle in any book but in this book it’s expressly galling to have the protagonist have 3 separate love interests when so much of this series to date is dedicated to saying what dirty nasty jezebels sexual women are and how all legs must be firmly cemented together in fear of ho-dom. It’s gross hypocrisy to present female sexuality in such a terrible fashion, attacking women constantly as “sluts” and “hos” and then have your protagonist rack up three hot guys to follow her around.

And each relationship is problematic. Sexy guy 1 is the hot teacher who who is hot and quotes poetry while getting all handsy with her. She gets all frustrated that he almost kisses her but doesn’t, never mind the actual boyfriend she has – or that he’s a teacher. The fact that he’s a teacher trying to get it on with a 16 year old is barley even touched upon – he’s just a hot guy and everyone may now drool, never mind power difference or abuse of position. Here’s one time when we can start yelling “shame” and everyone’s silent on the issue

Then there’s the ex-boyfriend human who she regards with constant contempt. She will occasionally mention that he’s cute, but every other word she has for him is contemptuous. Of course, the reason why he wants her so much is because he is magically compelled by her vampire-yness. His free will is completely compromised, he is addicted to her and she can literally magically stalk him. Again, there is precious little attempt to address the abusive nature of this relationship, instead it’s just a conflict because poor poor Zoey doesn’t know who to choose, like it’s her complicated love life rather than abuse.

The final love interest is Eirik. He’s pretty and he does Shakespearean monologues. This is it. There are manikins with more personality. It says a lot that his lack of personality stands out next to the rest of the characters – because no-one is developed. Her enemies are terribad awful. Her friends are characterless sycophants (two of them with the same personality who call each other “twin”). It’s amazing that Eirik can have even less personality than these hollow caricatures

This lack of character is especially problematic with the marginalised characters who become walking caricatures. Shaunee, a Black woman, is like someone called to central casting for a sassy Black girl (and this is only made worse by her white, blonde “twin” adopting the exact same language use and even speaking as a Black woman – and no-one cares, especially not Shaunee!). She continues to be referred as food – this time taking the old coffee (she’s a coffee latte this time) and chocolate similies and adding “brown sugar”. No really:

“You can tell him that if he wants a little brown sugar in his Juliet he need look no further than right here.”

An actual quote. It’s one of those times when I feel genuinely uncomfortable quoting a book because reaaaalllly?!

At very least Zoey’s super-special woo-woo isn’t so directly linked to her Cherokee heritage, though her grandmother is still a caricature of a wise-woman shaman.

Damien is still our token gay friend. It’s almost sad that that authors think they are being they are being progressive by repeatedly expressing how terrible Damien’s parents homophobia is, but then go on to make such a walking stereotype. Literally everything Damien does or says is referenced back to his sexuality somehow, he’s the worst Gay Shark I’ve ever seen. Even the way he’s described – he manages to say things “gayly” (whatever that means) and how he “gayer than he usually looked”.

We have additional bonuses like referring to one character as “like and old-time movie star (without the latent homosexual tendencies)”, completely downplaying the homophobia of teen boys as standards, as well as Shaunee and Erin getting all fetishistic and drooly over the idea of gay men kissing. We also have a new character who everyone assumes is gay but he never confirms it. But he has named himself after a character in Brokeback Mountain. Yes he’s another character entirely defined by his sexuality – he exists to (presumably) be gay and fetch a carry for the precious Zoey Sue. It’s really appallingly terrible.

On top of all this we have some added annoyances – like everyone being so impressed with Damien’s vocabulary which is pretty much not that impressive. I’m saddened at what low opinions the author has for a teenaged readership that the words he uses are considered so taxing.

Any decision Zoey has to make is easily handled by the Irritable Bowel Goddess. Nyx happily gives her stomach gramps and rumbles every time she has to decide what to do, therefore saving her from ever actually having to make a decision or apply logic (thankfully) or have a reason for her decisions.  Or how they obsess about health because (of course), the fledglings can die at any time – so their diet is very healthy. Except Zoey drinks a dozen full sugar “brown pops” a day and starts every day with two bowls of full sugar cereal. It’s stuff like that that really annoys me – it’s such a simple bit of world building that could so easily be fixed to make it consistent. We also have an epic amount of recapping and Stand Alone Stuffing, like so much happened in the last book to really need that much recap? Maybe they assume that readers were so traumatised they just forgot everything in an attempt to preserve their minds? Or the clumsy presentation of vampires as facing considerable prejudice yet every single famous person is turned into a vampire. Ok marginalised people can be famous – but literally every famous person is turned into a vampire in this book.

There’s also some truly gross appropriation of Black race riots comparing them to these oh-so-powerful and famous vampires.

Let’s return to that death I talked about which was, almost, emotional and sad. Well there’s one huge problem here – Zoey’s epic self-involvement. Even on this character’s death bed she is telling Zoey to look after herself and everyone to look after Zoey. The grief after the character’s death is ALL ABOUT ZOEY. Even though there are other characters who have known the dead one for far longer, everything is about Zoey: changing her clothes, helping her deal, carrying away buckets of her vomit. It’s all about Zoey on a level that is really kind of sickening.

It seems ridiculous to complain that a book that fails on so many levels fails to live up to its potential. But it does bother me that they could really make a point about death in this book – how the fledglings could die at any time and how painful that is but also how much death becomes a common occurrence that it fades into the background, unremarked on and with the dead ungrieved and unremembered. But it isn’t remarked on – and Zoey’s own grandmother tells her to move on before the body is even cold! Even as Zoey decides that her friend will be remembered, there’s no attempt to provide the same service for the many other fledglings who died. Again it’s both self-absorbed and complete lack of any real development, it’s beyond depressing.

Similarly the rigid gender roles of the vampires – male vampires are all physical and strength while female vampires are all mystical. Of course Damien crosses the line because, as it said in the last box, he’s not a real man to them.

Honestly, it seems petty at this point to complain about the terrible writing.

In the end, this book is technically better than the first book. That’s nothing to be proud of. It is still a trainwreck of awful with no decent plots, absolutely no characterisation and some truly appalling caricatures and stereotypes. The only good thing I can say is that it’s not as utterly awful as the previous book so I almost finished it feeling quite relieved. Yet it’s still far from anything resembling a decent book.